Before Depression
1660 - 1800

'Coleridge's Melancholy'

Dr Neil Vickers

One of many distinctively modern things about the young Coleridge is that he described himself as a depressive, rather than a melancholic. Among other things, this was, I suspect, a way of saying that his mental sufferings were a by-product of a more comprehensive 'lowering' of his bodily vigour. And he was sufficiently a man of the eighteenth century to want to describe that 'lowering' in exclusively biological terms. My book /Coleridge and the Doctors /(2004) leaves him in 1806 trying to persuade himself that the stomach ailments which made his life so miserable and which he had formerly attributed to gout and scrofula were in fact psychically caused while the depressions that had beset him at least from early manhood were the result of physical weakness. In this lecture, I shall describe the next phase of his thinking about the sources of mental and physical pain, paying particular attention to his growing interest in the moral meaning of melancholy and in experiences on the hinterland between melancholy and madness. I hope to show how the more complex model of mind-body integration which he developed during these years underpinned his mature critical thinking as set down in his literary lectures and in /Biographia Literaria/ (1817). I shall also demonstrate how it involved him returning to a much older set of assumptions about the relations between melancholy and the passions.

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